V&R Stories: Licensed for Adventure

Thirty-seven years later… –
Photo by Randy Stern

It has been 37 years since I first obtained my driver's license. This laminated card with my photo, stats, restrictions and endorsements has been my passport to the world. Well, maybe just one country – albeit one huge one. Nonetheless, my relationship with the road and the automobile has been forged by a single event of passing the driver's test in a car that is not of my own.

What was it like getting to that day in April of 1980? Pure hell! I was not a good driving student when I took the courses at Reseda High. A veteran coach at school, a guy I respected highly, taught Driver's Education. Did I learn anything? Probably.

Then, I signed up for the simulator course, where I started to learn a few things. This was done in a mobile unit on campus. Though, I must admit being a bad student back then due to my not dealing with the debilitation of my mother after her second stroke. Still, I wanted that damn license! I pushed forward.

It was time for actual driver's training behind the wheel. Back then, the Los Angeles Unified School District employed a fleet of Plymouth Valiants and Volares for four kids to try to learn to drive on the streets of the San Fernando Valley. My first day was not so good. I could not hold a line in the Valiant. Then again, I was scared to death. Things improved in the Volares, but I also noticed something about my driving: I favored the throttle – a lot. Not exactly a sign of a good enthusiast as one must be able to master the relationship between the accelerator and the brake. That I learned months later.

Needless to say I failed the LAUSD course. Mom knew of my passion for the automobile and understood deeply my goal to get my license at any cost. That phrase couldn't be truer when I signed up for the California Driving School – an independent driver's training outfit and one of the best driving schools in the country. My private lessons were taught in a smaller car – a Datsun B210. I'm glad we went the way of the Datsun because not only my instructor was fantastic, the car taught me much more about basic driving skills due to the feel of the vehicle. Manual steering does that to you.

In reality, I took the driving test twice. The first time was in my mother's 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. The sheer size alone did not help me pass the three-point turn test. I was devastated when I didn't pass. Maybe it was a blessing, but I saw it as a curse at the time. Like my mother, I am one stubborn person when it comes to attaining goals.

It was back to the California Driving School, my instructor and that Datsun B210. This time, I was to retake the driving test in the Datsun. Everything was an improvement over the big Olds, including the dreaded three-point turn. I nailed that – and finally passed the test to receive my license in the mail.

When I got home with my temporary license, I got permission to drive the Olds around the block. With pride, I took that Olds around my neighborhood as a legally licensed motorist. It was the proudest day of my life.

Since then, I learned a lot about driving and the automobile itself. I was glad I came into driving at the right time when the world transitioned from rudimentary mechanics to the electronic aids and nannies on today's automobiles. Over the years, I gained confidence to drive almost anything allowed by my license endorsement. That is, if you counted the Lamborghinis, Bentleys, McLarens and Rolls-Royces that I drove in the past several years. Who knew that after passing my driver's test on the second time would lead me to drive the greatest machines ever assembled? I sure as hell didn't think so back in 1980.

Let's not forget that I made mistakes along the way. No driver is perfect – not even Formula One champions. Every accident, every ticket, and every stupid move are all lessons learned.

Here is a fun fact: though I had my California license the longest, I had been licensed in a few other states subsequently. Let's see…there was Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois…and, yes, Minnesota. I have been legally given the privilege of driving in this state since 2004.

I always talked about the joy I have when I get behind the wheel. Even when I drive vehicles that do not satisfy me, I'm still joyful. Yet, I also know when is not the right time to get behind the wheel. I usually leave that for someone else to do.

For me, whether in the coldest of winter or the heat of the summer and everything else Mother Nature throws my way, I'm grateful for the struggle I went through getting my license 37 years ago.

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